Italy is known for a variety of things — its art, its culture, the cuisine, and of course, a fabled history that goes back thousands of years. However most would agree that one thing that the nation’s not known for is bluegrass. That said, one band in particular may be helping to change that perception one performance at a time.
The band in question is called Bluedust, and next year will mark the group’s tenth anniversary of making music of the bluegrass variety, some of which reaches back to the vintage sounds of the 1950s. Currently consisting of Perry Meroni (vocals), Josh Villa (mandolin and vocals), Dino Barbe (banjo), Stefano Zanrosso (bass and baritone vocals), and Tony Spezzano (acoustic guitar and tenor voice), the group even takes the traditional tack of singing around a single microphone. The musicians all hail from Milan and nearby environs, and several of them have a history of playing and performing bluegrass that stretches back nearly 30 years. Barbe in particular is considered one of the founding fathers of Italian bluegrass.
“We are deeply in love with bluegrass music — its instruments and the American history that produced this magical musical mix,” Villa says. “We can see in the eyes of those who listen to us the surprise and the fun, and the rediscovery of an acoustic sound that revives a style of music that may not be as widely recognized these days, but which is still so needed.”
In recent years the band has performed consistently at many of the major European festivals that take place in Italy, France, Germany, Netherlands, Scotland, and Switzerland, the latter of which Villa refers to as the band’s second home. In addition, they frequently play at pubs and parties, which allow them to tally approximately 40 gigs a year.
“The Italian and Swiss audiences are the two countries where we play the most, and they always respond in a surprising way to our music,” Villa insists. “The rhythms, the vocal harmonies, the rapid instrumental pieces, and even the singing around the single microphone allow for an unusual show that children, young people, and adults can all enjoy. We have our own audience of fans and we also see from the sale of our CDs to the concerts where we appear, that this music is well liked. However, our show is full of funny anecdotes, and it’s a complete show, well researched in every detail.”
“The dream is to be able to organize a tour in the United States,” Villa says. “It would really be beautiful to play in the homeland of the music we love most. I also think we would be able to entertain those audiences, and probably surprise them as well.”
In a way, they’ve had a head start. In recent years they’ve had the honor of opening shows for the likes of the Kruger Brothers, Daley and Vincent, Special Consensus, and the up and coming band, Seth Mulder & Midnight Run.
“Those encounter have always been incredible growth experiences for us,” Villa notes. “We learned a lot from them.”
The band has recorded four albums so far — Blast From the Past, Fifties, Live at St. Gotthard Pass, and Travelin‘, the latter of which was recorded recently in the midst of the pandemic lockdown. The title is a hopeful omen for a return to normalcy,” Villa suggests.
Even while the band continues to look forward, they remain firmly rooted in the past. “Most of us started getting involved with bluegrass through the records of Lester Flatt and Bill Monroe,” Villa explains. “That gave us our impetus and initiative to make our own albums. My first exposure to bluegrass came from a beautiful live concert by Doc and Merle Watson that was broadcast on Italian television. It also included a concert by the Johnson Mountain Boys. Nowadays, we survey the entire American bluegrass scene, checking out new bands and following developments through IBMA videos. That’s our point of reference.”
For more information on Bluedust, check out their website online.